From early on in my life I have enjoyed British television. Like most people my age, their indoctrination to British TV was on PBS. Growing up in the middle of nowhere I had three channels, four if ABC decided to tune in. Looking for something different I would turn the dial (yes my TV had a dial back then) to Channel 6. It was a totally different world than anything I knew. I loved it. From then on I was hooked and have always held a soft spot for entertainment from across the pond. That being said….
Here is a list, in no particular order, of my favorite British TV Shows.
Are You Being Served?
I might as well start at the beginning. This was the first British show that I remember watching; and boy did I watch. It was on at 10pm every week night and I would stay up watching and laughing just about every night. It was wacky. It was screwball. It was dry. It made me smile. It helped shape my sense of humor and to this day it still makes me laugh.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
If ‘Are You Being Served?” shaped my sense of humor, Monty Python honed it into a rapier point. Python expanded my comedic knowledge. To that point I thought I knew what was funny and how things could be funny; then I saw ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. Sitting in my basement with a stack of rented VHS videos next to me, my eyes were now fully open to what really was. At its face, Monty Python appears to be idiotic and total screwball antics, but if you watch it, I mean really watch, you see that there is not a wasted movement, vocalization or look. It is as close to comedic perfection that there ever has been. I set out to find ‘Flying Circus’ and consume as much of Python as I could. I thank my friends from International Music Camp for telling me of these brilliant men. (And also my introduction to Kids in the Hall. Not British but worth a mention regardless of their place of origin.)
One of thee most enduring television shows in history. It has survived and thrived for decades and built one of the biggest cult followings on the planet. Any Whovian can tell you who “Their Doctor” is… well any Whovian worth their salt anyway. Like a majority My Doctor was Tom Baker. Many wonderful memories of tuning in PBS on a Friday night and watching The Doctor, Sarah Jane and K9 fight Daleks and Cybermen from that beautiful blue box. I say WAS My Doctor. I say that because in 2005 a rakish man in a long coat stepped out of the TARDIS and captured me. David Tennant quickly became My Doctor. Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat resurrected a beloved series and their second Doctor gave it legs. I still can’t bring myself to watch Tennant’s final episode a second time. Watching it the first time, it wrecked me for days…
A spin-off of Doctor Who follows Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and his band of misfits who investigate the unexplained… Well unexplained to the majority of the world. To them it is plain and simple; extraterrestrials and extraterrestrial technology. Te roguish Captain Jack has his way with anyone and everyone he wants. A 51st century con man/Time Agent who now has dedicated his life to protecting Earth from all threats foreign… very foreign. The series had a very different feel than Doctor Who and went in different directions. It was its own entity and yet familiar.
This was really Steven Moffat’s answer to ‘Friends’. Being a huge fans of that show I was immediately drawn to ‘Coupling’. Every episode was brilliantly devised and timed perfectly. I quote things from this show almost daily. Granted I have no life and speak almost exclusively in movie/TV quotes or song lyrics. That aside, it is a home run for me. I could watch this show over and over and over.
This is officially the Moffat block. Having written some of my favorite DW episodes, all of Coupling and now this wonderful piece of work. He put a modern spin on a timeless classic. the writing on the show is top-notch and the chemistry between Martin Freeman (Dr. John Watson) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) is near perfection. I can’t get enough of this show.
Whose Line is it Anyway?
Thank you Comedy Central for not having any original programing for many years so you could show reruns of this show over and over and over and over… Michael McShane, Tony Slattery, Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Josie Lawrence, Stephen Frost, and the wry, dry host Clive Anderson all introduced to me and made me fall in love with improvisation. It is one of the most difficult things to do… check that… It is one of the most difficult things to do WELL. Any idiot can randomly spew things on stage and call it improv. It takes real skill to be able to think several moves ahead and keep a constant flow of made up entertainment. It is a very hard thing to do. A couple of friends of mine and I would play some of the improv games from time to time. It was fun. It is defiantly something that takes much practice. Hats off to those guy… Well done… well done indeed.
And here is a non-musical example of ‘Who’s Line’ goodness…
That Mitchell and Webb Look
This is on the list for many reasons, but the only one that matters is this: Numberwang.
Again a retelling of a classic story. This one was executed wonderfully. The characters where well written and played. And there was a sense of reality that came with this show. In particular Keith Allen’s portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham. He was evil… as to be expected from the antagonist of a television show, but he wasn’t the typical bad guy.
Honorable mentions go to Spaced, Hotel Babylon, Downton Abbey, The Office, Extras, Fawlty Towers, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, The Graham Norton Show, Spitting Image, Red Dwarf, The Black Adder and Hex.
There it is, for better or worse. That is my list of British TV Shows.
Let me know…